Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in Greenwich Village’s bohemian hotspot the Kettle of Fish, on a very long rainy night in August of 1957…
(Please go here to read our preceding chapter; click here to return to the all-but-forgotten fog-shrouded beginnings of this 79-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)
“Yes, I have caught a late-winter head cold, but to me this is no more than a welcome excuse to stay home, stoke up on my wife’s delightful pot cookies, drink copious cups of strong Assam tea, and lose myself in the wondrous universe of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and inexhaustibly rich chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the AARP Literary Quarterly.
“Hold on, pal,” the little man said, and he pointed a finger up at me, with a hand that held a bottle of Rheingold beer. His other hand held a cigarette.
“Now what is it?” I said.
“Don’t be so impatient. How do you even know what I’m going to say.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “And I don’t want to know.”
“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is –”
He made some sounds with his mouth and tongue and an exhalation of beery breath, but these aural phenomena passed through my brain without leaving the slightest impression on my consciousness.
“Oh,” I said, anyway. “Hi.”
I took a step to the left, preparatory to attempting to limp briskly past him, but he took a sideways step with me, blocking my way.
“You’ve heard of me, right?” he yelled, squeaked, through the continuing cacophony of the barroom.
“Oh, sure,” I said. “But look –”
“Just hold on, buddy.” His voice sounded like it was coming from a scratchy old record playing on an old Victrola. “What’s the big rush, anyway?”
“Trying to rejoin my friends?” I said. “Return to my own world?”
“All that shit can wait. Look, you’ve read my book, right?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said,
“And what did you think of it?”
“Great,” I said. “Really good. But look –”
“You’re not shitting me?”
“No, not at all.”
“You probably wonder though why I never published another book, all these thirty-two long years.”
“Well, yes, I had wondered about that,” I lied, through my teeth, but then I guess the bock really began to hit me, because I felt compelled to tell the truth. “Wait,” I said. “I was lying. I don’t know who you are, or what your name is, and I doubt very much if I’ve read your book.”
“I just told you my name.”
“It went in one ear and out the other,” I said.
“Pay attention,” he said. “My name is Martin de Porres Zaramajevski!”
“Martin?” I said.
“Martin de Porres,” he said. “Zaramajevski.”
“Martin de Porres,” I said.
“Zarasomething,” I said.
“Zara,” I said.
“Majevski,” he said.
“Zara-mm-hm?” I said.
“Martin de Porres Zaramajevski!” he said. “Surely you’ve heard of me.”
“No,” I said. “Sorry.”
“I wrote a book of poems titled Dithyrambs for the Damned.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Never heard of it.”
“You never heard of it.”
“No,” I said, the single syllable echoing through the vast empty dark reaches of the universe.
“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of my fucking book.”
“I’m very ill-read,” I said.
“Ezra Pound gave the book a good review. So did Gertrude Stein.”
“I’m sure it’s good then,” I said.
“What. Just because Pound and Stein gave it good reviews?”
“Well, uh –”
“Well, to be honest I don’t know who those people are.”
“You don’t know who Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein are?”
“No,” I said. “Not exactly?”
“What about inexactly.”
“Not inexactly either,” I said.
“Then why’d you say you’re sure my book is good?”
“I was trying to bring the conversation to a close, as painlessly as possible.”
“Okay,” he said. “I get it. You’re saying my book stinks.”
“Not at all,” I said. “I think that if you will mentally review everything I have said since you waylaid me, that I have said no such thing.”
“But you think my book stinks. You may not be saying it per se, but that’s what you’re thinking.”
“All I’m thinking is that I want to escape.”
“But if you were to think of my book then you would think that it stinks.”
“Not necessarily,” I hedged.
“I’m not talking about what’s necessary,” he said. “I’m talking about the truth.”
“Okay,” I said. “To be honest, and apparently I must be honest, I have no idea if your book is good or not. Nor, continuing with this odd streak of honesty, do I care. Now, may I pass, please, Mr. Scarasomething?”
“Zaramajevski,” he said.
“Zarawhatever,” I said. “May I pass?”
He paused, but he still stood in my way.
“You want to know what I think?” he hollered, as if he were down in some hidden valley and calling up to a friend way up on a mountainside. “Wanta know?”
“No,” I hollered back down to him.
“I heard your so-called poetry-reading here earlier tonight, and I think your poetry stinks.”
“Oh, okay,” I said.
“You use too many words too infelicitously to say Johnny-fuck-all.”
“Well, I can see how you might think that,” I said.
“I most certainly do think that. Your so-called poetry is so much pretentious self-indulgent shit.”
“Um,” I said.
“I agree with you.”
“I said I agree that my poetry stinks.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because it’s true?”
“But it’s your own poetry.”
“But still it stinks,” I said.
He looked at me, then took a good slug from his bottle of Rheingold. He belched and then took a good long drag on his cigarette. Then he spoke, shouted, bleated up at me.
“Someday I’ll write good poetry again!”
“Oh, I’m sure you will,” I said, with difficulty, squeezing out just one more lie.
“Do you really think so?”
“Well, no, not really,” I said. “Listen, I’d like to tell you something more encouraging, but I just drank a mug of bock laced with ambrosia, and I think it’s forcing me to tell the truth.”
“What?” he said. “They gave you the house bock?”
“Yes,” I said. “I didn’t want it, really, but I sort of got tricked into –”
“Why won’t they sell me the house bock?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You know,” he said.
“Well, I have an idea,” I said.
“Why? Why won’t they sell it to me?”
“Well, if you must know,” I said, “it’s probably because you’re kind of obnoxious.”
“I thought that was why,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be sorry. I don’t want your pity.”
“Maybe you could try to be less obnoxious.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Okay,” I said. “So, look, uh –”
“If I could write some good poems again they wouldn’t care if I was obnoxious.”
“Well, that’s possibly true,” I said. “But still, maybe if you could just try to be a little less unpleasant –”
“Well, maybe I could try,” he said.
“It wouldn’t hurt,” I said.
“It’s just ‘cause I’m so embittered. Because I’ve had writer’s block for thirty-two years. What’s your secret?”
“I don’t have one,” I said.
“I mean for writing. How do you write?”
“Oh, I just sit down and start writing,” I said. “Something always seems to come out.”
“It sounds like taking a shit,” he said.
“It’s a little like that,” I said. “A lot like it.”
“It’s what your stuff is, too,” he said. ”Shit.”
“That’s true,” I said.
“But at least you write it. At least you write something, even if it is shit. Now I’m really depressed. Do you know how depressing it is to be a sixty-three-year-old failure?”
“No,” I said, “but I’m sure someday I will, unless I die first.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It would be worse if your poetry wasn’t shit.”
“Well, I’m glad it’s shit then,” I said.
“Would you like to buy me a drink?”
“No,” I said.
“Not even a Rheingold? They only cost a quarter, you cheap bastard.”
“It’s not the price of the beer I find daunting,” I said, “but, rather, the prospect of remaining in your company.”
“So you find my company that distasteful.”
“Yes,” I said. “How about if I just give you the money for a beer.”
“What do you take me for, a mooch?”
“Well – and, again, I only say this because apparently I am at present unable to tell a lie – I suspect that you are a mooch, as well as being an obnoxious bore. Also, if you don’t mind my saying so, your breath is bad.”
I couldn’t help it, it was the bock, forcing me to tell the truth.
The little man cursed me to hell, then turned away, towards the bar.
I continued on my limping hobbling way.
What was it with me and obnoxious old men? Why were they drawn to me? Or, in some terrible way, was it I who was somehow drawn to them?
I filed these questions away for musing upon at some future date, preferably a date so far in the future that I would never reach it.
(Continued here, because the gods have so ordained.)
(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find a quite often current listing of all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, sponsored in part by Uneeda© Biscuits: “When I was just starting out in the writing game there were plenty of days when Uneeda© Biscuits were the only thing keeping me alive until that next publisher’s check came in!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of A Gentleman Always Wears Spats and Other Stories.)